MINNEAPOLIS — Until last Friday the people at Lakeview Industries in Carver, Minnesota had never made a single face shield. Now, workers there are churning out thousands of them every hour.
For the past 40 years, Lakeview has made custom rubber, plastic and foam parts for a wide variety of industries - agriculture, automotive, lawn mowers, medicine and power generators, just to name a few.
The mad scramble for personal protective gear sparked by the coronavirus caught the attention of the company's owner, John Schwanke.
"I kept watching on the news the people on the front line had a shortage of PPEs, and I couldn’t understand why nobody could get them the product that they needed," Schwanke told KARE.
"So, I researched what it was they were using and decided that this is something we could make."
Schwanke reached out to local officials in Carver who put him in touch with Rep. Jim Nash of Waconia. Rep. Nash connected Schwanke to Carver County Sheriff Jason Kamerud, who said he'd be happy to get as many shields as he could.
Rep. Nash then started making introductions to others in the emergency response and medical fields.
"When I had the conversations with various emergency managers and hospital folks they said, 'We need them, we’d like to see a sample'," Nash told KARE.
"And they said, 'The sample looks like what we need, we’re going to buy them.' It was just that simple."
The masks seem simple enough to make - clear, flexible plastic attached to a foam strip with an elastic headband. They're designed for one-time use, so they don't have to last forever.
But the trick is making those shields in mass quantities, which Lakeview was equipped to do. The company has enough raw material to make 8 million of the shields.
"So far, we’ve made over 100,000 of them and we just started building these on Friday. And we anticipate shipping 250,000 a day starting Tuesday," Schwanke said.
Orders are coming in from across Minnesota and several other states. The company has also donated thousands of the masks locally.
At a time when many companies have been forced to lay off workers, all 85 of Schwanke's have been able to keep working, with extra precautions against COVID-19.
"All of our people are working overtime, working three shifts a day, 24 hours a day. And they’re all very proud to be helping everyone who’s on the front line fight this virus."
Rep. Nash said this is reminiscent of companies that switched production during World War II to help the war effort. He said he was amazed how quickly the face shield effort went from mere concept to reality.
"That’s what’s so impressive about folks like them in industries around Minnesota, is they recognize they have the components and technology to do this and then they roll up their sleeves and go do it."
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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.